RWC 2015 Spotlight - Georgia
GEORGIA ON THE RWC STAGE
With a national flag incorporating the red cross of St George on a white background, Georgia should feel right at home in England at Rugby World Cup 2015. Not that this hugely passionate rugby nation lacks its own identity or is any kind of stranger to the Game’s global showpiece event.
In recent times Georgia have become the principal powerhouse of Eastern European rugby and next year’s tournament will be the fourth time in a row that they have competed at the Rugby World Cup. History shows that they are not to be taken lightly either, their gnarled, heavyweight pack causing problems for leading nations such as South Africa, England, Scotland and Ireland since their introduction in 2003.
Gaining qualification for their first-ever Rugby World Cup in Australia was a very big deal for the former Soviet state, whose famed prowess in the set-piece was honed on scrummaging machines made from tractors that had laid idle since the collapse of the old communist regime. Watched by a crowd of 45,000 at the National Stadium and a million-and-a-half people at home on television, Georgia ensured their place in at RWC 2003 as the fourth and final European qualifier with victory over Russia in the final play-off match.
Despite being paired in Pool C with pre-tournament favourites and eventual world champions England, 1995 winners South Africa, Samoa and Uruguay, Georgia gave a good account of themselves on debut in Australia.
Their inaugural RWC campaign began in encouraging fashion against England, the Lelos’ pack matching their opponents at times in the scrum and even managing the occasional moral victory. After eight minutes the scores were tied at 3-3 before England’s superior class and fitness told and they found another gear to run in a dozen tries and win 84-6. Fly half Paliko Jimsheladze scored all of Georgia’s points via two penalties and a drop goal as they then went down to a 46-9 defeat in their second match against Samoa.
South Africa, captained for the first time by John Smit, provided further formidable opposition as Georgia’s campaign switched from Perth to the Aussie Stadium in Sydney. The Springboks duly won 46-19 but, like England and Samoa, it took them a while to break down spirited resistance from Georgia.
At one stage, the Georgians were less than two scores behind their much-vaunted opponents, hooker David Dadunashvili shrugging off the pain of a dislocated shoulder to score his side’s first RWC try. Come the final whistle, Georgia were given a standing ovation by the locals and the players responded as if they had won the Webb Ellis Cup. Georgia’s first RWC experience came to a disappointing conclusion though, when they lost 24-12 to Uruguay in the battle of the Pool C wooden spoon contenders.
Georgia made it through to RWC 2007 in France after a thrilling, two-legged play-off victory over Portugal. Handed another tough draw, Georgia found themselves in Pool D alongside hosts France, an Argentina side that would go on to claim the bronze medal, Ireland and Namibia.
For the first time at a Rugby World Cup, though, they could call upon the services of fearsome Montpellier-based loose forward Mamuka Gorgodze. ‘Gorgodzilla’ started three of the Lelos’ matches and emerged as a genuine star on the world stage.
His RWC debut came in Lyon against Argentina where Georgia kept the Pumas try-less in the first half – no mean feat considering their opponents had been shock winners over hosts France in the tournament’s opening match four days earlier – before having their line breached four times in the second half to lose 33-3.
A full house at the Stade Chaban-Delmas in Bordeaux thought they were going to be privy to the biggest shock in Rugby World Cup history after seeing Georgia take a 10-7 lead against Ireland with full-time fast approaching. However Girvan Dempsey’s 55th-minute try spared Ireland’s blushes, although Eddie O’Sullivan’s charges had to rely on a late TMO verdict going their way to avoid the ignominy of defeat.
Buoyed by this near-miss, Georgia headed north to Lens to play Namibia. They had the upper hand from the off, tries from Akvsenti Guiorgadze, Irakli Machkhaneli and Davit Kacharava together with 15 points from the boot of Merab Kvirikashvili earning them their first-ever RWC win, 30-0. The final pool fixture against France proved a match too far for Georgia, the host nation winning 64-7 in Marseilles.
Spearheaded by the considerable frame of Gorgodze, Georgia’s pack boasted French Top 14 experience virtually across the board at RWC 2011 in New Zealand. However they were out-muscled in wet conditions in their opening clash against Scotland in Invercargill. The 15-6 defeat was particularly disappointing for Georgia’s Scottish coach Richie Dixon, who had left the SRU two years earlier following the best part of four decades service as a player and coach.
Georgia’s remaining Pool B fixtures brought defeats against England (41-10) and Argentina (25- 7), the Pumas having to comeback from 7-5 down at the interval, and a second tournament win (25-9) against arch European Nations Cup Division 1A rivals Romania after star man Gorgodze had scored the only try of the match.
The heroic 14-10 defeat to Ireland at RWC 2007. They may have lost the match but Georgia won the admiration of the rugby world after a superbly competitive display. Had Ireland number 8 Denis Leamy not got his body between ball and ground in the Irish in-goal area to force a ‘held up’ call by the TMO, Georgia would have pulled off the biggest shock in Rugby World Cup history.
Georgia clearly weren’t comfortable being cast in the unusual role as favourites going into their RWC 2003 pool match against Uruguay. Georgia made mistake-after-mistake in an entirely forgettable match, which ended in a 24-12 loss to the South Americans.
"This day is the best day yet for Georgian rugby, and all of Georgia. We don't even know what to expect of our celebrations. It's our first victory - we're amateurs at winning!" Flanker Rati Urushadze talking after Georgia’s first-ever RWC win against Namibia.
David Dadunashvili became the youngest player to start a match at hooker in the history of the Rugby World Cup when he packed down against South Africa in Sydney on 24 October 2013, aged 21 years and 270 days.